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Featured Formula E: Round 3 – Punta del Este ePrix Report

Discussion in 'Formula E Championship' started by Jordan Adcock, Dec 14, 2014.

  1. Sébastien Buemi chased, defended and won a dramatic Punta del Este ePrix, finally showing us his full potential from testing which made many observers mark him as favourite for this season. Buemi had the pace in Beijing and Putrajaya, but not the overall luck. This weekend however, it was other drivers' turns to have misfortune.

    Most important to the driver’s championship was the trials of emphatic Putrajaya winner Sam Bird; he binned it in qualifying, and didn’t make much progress during the race before misjudging the first corner and being launched by one of the sausage kerbs into the unforgiving wall at turn 2. The always unlucky Nick Heidfeld cannily managed to get in front in the pitstops during a safety car period, only to get two drive-through penalties afterwards.

    The beachside track located in the “Monaco of South America” was tight as I thought, yet was actually quicker as well. Looking at the map of the 1.7 mile track, I feared that the many chicanes could really disrupt the flow, but instead drivers were able to push through the corners, creating a fast and risky back section to the lap. If these were F1 cars driving around, the turbulent air they produced would almost certainly mean a less adventurous race than the one we got. Formula E can consider itself lucky that its electric-powered cars don't suffer from this, and they can therefore run as close together as they do. The combination of this, the bumpy road surface and the car’s low grip from their narrow grooved tyres meant lots of entertainment watching them attack the circuit, even while sliding right next to the walls. This series may be something of a novelty at the moment, but tell that to the drivers, who all fought for places throughout and made several daring passing attempts, even if a lot of them didn’t work out.

    Though I may have joked in my preview about the Formula E teams and drivers heading to the beaches of Uruguay, dealing with sand blown onto the track by crosswinds was in fact another challenge faced. It especially affected getting off the line for those on the left-hand side as sensational debut poleman Jean-Eric Vergne found out, caught in wheelspin while China Racing’s Nelson Piquet Jr. led away from 2nd on the grid. Vergne then chased Piquet for most of the first stint but couldn’t get by. The Frenchman was voted for FanBoost but a technical issue prevented him from using it in his first car, so he had to get by Piquet the apparently old-school way, going down the inside into turn 8 on lap 13.

    And trust me, it feels good being able to write that sentence. I know I’ve expressed my dislike of FanBoost before, but it really would pain me if one of these races was decided by someone getting a crucial boost past through essentially reality television tactics instead of sporting ones, as Vergne came close to doing against Buemi later on in the race. Would it then be more accurate to put in the records “Jean-Eric Vergne plus his thousands of Twitter followers” as the race winner? Perhaps we the audience are lucky then that all the drivers who’ve so far used FanBoost have seemed cursed by it. This time Nick Heidfeld got his aforementioned penalties, Amlin Aguri stand-in Salvador Duran (who, if I was being cynical, basically got Katherine Legge’s votes) spent much time in the pits and was very quiet all race, while Vergne himself retired with suspension failure on the penultimate lap as he chased Buemi down. But regardless of how effective it is, FanBoost remains the black mark on this otherwise very enjoyable series and the sooner it's gone the better. Still, Vergne’s stellar weekend, one taken “into the unknown” as he put it, deserved more than heartbreak and mere kudos. Whether he continues with Formula E to Bueno Aires next month isn’t clear, but on this evidence maybe he’s found a place where he can start winning, and regularly.

    And he didn’t make fellow Toro Rosso dropout Buemi’s win easy, though the Swiss driver could have done without the numerous safety car periods bunching the field back up. The e-Dams driver’s power management was excellent compared to Vergne and Piquet Jr., but it didn’t pay the dividends it should have. Despite some sudden late-race raggedness while defending he still took the win, and now he should definitely be a championship contender. He’ll first have to catch up with Lucas di Grassi, the consistent Brazilian again keeping out of trouble in his Audi Sport ABT to take 3rd and a third straight podium, now holding an 18-point lead over Buemi and Bird, both on 40 points.

    Of the other notables? Nelson Piquet Jr. probably wasn’t quick enough for a podium on pure pace today, but made sure to capitalize when rivals faltered and maintained his 2nd place. Such was the number of safety cars that Bruno Senna could clout the wall, severely warp his rear suspension, still make it back to the pits and change cars without losing much time! That was one bit of good fortune in an otherwise miserable first few races for the fast Brazilian, having already been excluded from qualifying thanks to his own Mahindra crew’s misdeeds, and he eventually finished 6th. It was good to finally see Stephane Sarrazin in the Venturi make more of an impact, even if he mixed some good overtakes with overdriving while defending, leading to his own off and retirement. Buemi’s teammate Nicolas Prost will be frustrated by the drive-through penalty which ruined his chances of a podium again, while Andretti’s Matty Brabham certainly showed us his disappointment at crashing while battling with Jarno Trulli. Surely it was just a coincidence we saw so many incidents in a race held in the Maldonado department of Uruguay? And yes, it took a while for the national anthems to start playing on the podium, but they actually played in full this time! It’s an admittedly rather small but very public part of the race program that’s Formula E’s steadily improving on.

    So leaving aside my own dislike of FanBoost and those pesky sausage kerbs, Formula E’s third race was full of pleasant surprises, the biggest being that Punta del Este might just be my favourite track so far. Quick, bumpy, punishing, but wide enough for overtaking, the close-running cars took what looked like an unappealing layout and provided a good race. Roll on Argentina…

    Race Result (31 laps)
    Sébastien Buemi e-Dams 25 pts
    Nelson Piquet Jr. China Racing 18
    3 Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT 15
    Jarno Trulli Trulli GP 12
    Jaime Alguersuari Virgin Racing 10

    Standings after 3 races
    Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT 58 pts
    2 Sébastien Buemi e-Dams 40
    3 Sam Bird Virgin Racing 40
    4 Nicolas Prost e-Dams 24
    5 Nelson Piquet Jr. China Racing 22

    What did you think of the race? Was Buemi a deserving winner or would Vergne have been your choice? Any other “driver of the day” suggestions? Comment below!
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  2. The start of the race was difficult for the drivers on the side odd. The track on this side was dirty.

    For Vergne, I think the pit stop was not really good, 1'06", and before his stop he was so quick.
    Buemi was under the pressure of Vergne, and he made two mistakes by cutting chicanes.
    And at the end, he was unlucky.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2014
  3. Bram

    Administrator Staff Member Premium Member

    Would love to see these cars racing on pure slicks and see how they perform then. The tires make for some nice locking up and smoking but aren't really suitable for outbraking another vehicle. Or are the cars too heavy for slicks?

    (off-topic: why are the drivers still wearing a balaclava under their helmets as there is not fuel to catch fire?)
  4. Jimlaad43

    Nice apex, I'll take it! Staff Member Premium Member

    The grooved tyres are for rain. If the cars are in the second stint, and it starts raining, they cannot come in and switch cars, as the other one has no charge. It's just a way of avoiding problems from changeable weather.

    Just because there's no fuel doesn't mean the car won't catch fire. The batteries can get very hot and could cause a bodywork fire.
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Beer Beer x 1
  5. Bram

    Administrator Staff Member Premium Member

    Put one man in the pit with a wheel gun and change the tires from slick to full wets when it starts raining?
  6. I totally agree and I want to add something.

    The choice of this kind of tyres was explained by Serge Grisin, wheels racing director at Michelin Motorsport.
    He explained that enables to reduce the number of tyres used during a race and one type of tyres for all the climatic conditions to be closer to the tyres used by the common cars.
    And it is a way to Michelin to test new tyres.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. @Bram Hengeveld I've also thought about the cars having slick tyres, but I think the big thing preventing it is the two-car rule. Drivers already have to make one long pitstop to change cars, and in what are already quite short races (this one clocked in at about 50 minutes), also possibly having wet tyre stops probably isn't the right way to do it at the moment. The race order might be near impossible to follow, that many pitstops would jumble it up so much!
  8. Bram

    Administrator Staff Member Premium Member

    Changing that rule for the next season would at least push the development and innovation (as thats the reason this series are here I think?).
    • Batteries that will last longer so you don't need to switch cars.
    • This would also open up an extra window for tire changes. Pitstops for me at least are an important part of watching F1. I love the stress and the perfection that pitstops bring.
    Changing cars is just not very 2014'ish although I understand the limitations.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  9. Jimlaad43

    Nice apex, I'll take it! Staff Member Premium Member

    Don't you think they've already got them going as far as they can with current technology. The whole point of starting an Electric race series now is that so problems like this can be developed away. There are too many sceptics picking at tiny things and ignoring the fact that the series has produced three great races with loads of action, something for real motorsport fans.
  10. Bram

    Administrator Staff Member Premium Member

    Indeed I don't think so.
  11. I just hope they find a solution to simply change the batteries instead of the whole car :D
  12. Why not. I am not against the fact of changing car during the pit stop.

    The engineers will find a solution for the batteries. But when ?

    By the way, the races were very interesting with good pilots and lot of battles. I am became a big fan of Formula E. Let's hope it lasts!
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  13. I was skeptical of the whole idea of a global electric single-seater series, but after this race, it has won me over for sure. :) There is a lot of great action on track in this series, which is great for motorsport fans. Plus, I notice that there are already more official Formula E videos, which appeases fans on the social media side of things as well. Formula One needs to follow suit!
  14. But Bernie believes the "social media" will be gone in two years time :D
  15. In other words, he thinks that civilization will go back to the Stone Age in just two years' time? :p
    • Haha Haha x 2
  16. Oh hell no ! These races and cars are fun to watch in big part thanks to the less grippy street-like tyres. Having slicks would kill it.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  17. Yeah definately! Because customers don't change cars when the batteries are empty. They charge it or...maybe in future there are battery-change-stations where the battery will be replaced. And this is where Formula E can help with developing this!
    • Agree Agree x 1